When I had the idea to do a Women’s Month here at 25YL, there was one specific woman I had in mind: Kim Wexler of Better Call Saul. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a Better Call Saul superfan, and the character of Kim Wexler is a huge reason for this. I loathe the term “strong female character” for a multitude of reasons—women don’t have to be strong to be interesting, it’s okay to show weakness—but Kim Wexler has a quiet strength that I find very realistic and far more compelling than the usual “strong women” we see in TV and film. Kim isn’t out there kicking ass and saving the world, but she can try to save it one client at a time.
In Season 1, Kim is solidly in supporting role status, but Rhea Seehorn steals every scene she is in. Seehorn’s performance is a large part of what makes Kim stand out in Season 1, where she isn’t given all that much to do (at least compared to later seasons). What we do see of Kim in Season 1 is that she is intelligent, determined, and hardworking. We also see that she has a very special relationship with Jimmy McGill. She is the only one who seems to truly know Jimmy. She understands him and accepts him despite his flaws; she loves him, though not yet in the way she would come to love him.
Given that Better Call Saul is a prequel series to Breaking Bad and we all know that Jimmy eventually turns into Saul Goodman, the writers had an uphill battle when it came to making the viewer root for Jimmy. Bob Odenkirk does a masterful job of making Jimmy McGill a completely different person than the Saul we know, but I think that Kim’s character is essential to fleshing out the Jimmy we meet in Season 1. While Season 1 is very much Jimmy’s story, Kim is an essential part of that story.
Some of my favorite scenes from Season 1—scenes that show Jimmy’s heart and soul—could not exist without Kim. One of my favorite scenes in the series to date is the scene in “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (S1E5), where Jimmy and Kim share an intimate moment as he paints her toenails at the nail salon and regales her with tales of the day he spent hustling for clients. (This includes the iconic “Tony the Sex Toilet” impression, which is maybe the funniest thing Better Call Saul has ever done.) But the scene isn’t all comedy; there is a touching moment between Jimmy and Kim where she encourages him to keep up the good work. She notes that, since the old folks seem to love him, perhaps he should specialize in elder law. At this point, Jimmy is feeling pretty down about his prospects regarding building his own private practice, but in reality he did good work that day. Sure, it’s not glamorous—it’s not the Kettleman case he so desperately wanted—but it’s important, honest work, and he’s good at it. Kim makes him see this. She inspires him. She makes him want to be a better man.
Kim is fiercely protective of Jimmy, but she never mothers him. All too often a female love interest of a wayward male protagonist like Jimmy is written into a maternal role. She will fall into a pattern of behavior where she looks after her man-child boyfriend or husband and makes sure he stays on the right path. Kim Wexler is not that character. She tries to protect and guide Jimmy, yes, but she allows him to make his own mistakes and live his life on his own terms, for better or worse. Kim knows that Jimmy will be Jimmy, and she loves him anyway. She’s not there to nag him or chastise him or pass judgment. She just cares about him; she just wants to help, but she knows that Jimmy has to come to decisions on his own terms.
And Jimmy McGill is the king of poor decision-making. He is an “ends justify the means” type of guy and this all too often results in his actions hurting those around him, especially Kim. We see this clearly in Season 2, when—after Kim helped get him a job at Davis and Main—Jimmy decides to make a TV commercial and air it without permission from his bosses. While the commercial was a success in terms of bringing in new clients (by legal means) for the class action suit against Sandpiper Crossing, the Davis and Main partners are furious that Jimmy went rogue.
Kim, who vouched for Jimmy with Howard (who in turn vouched for him with Cliff Main), suffers the blowback for this while Jimmy comes out of it relatively unscathed. Of course, he feels guilty, but he assumes it is all Chuck’s doing—just another way for Chuck to stick it to him, using Kim as a proxy. What Jimmy can’t grasp, and Kim fully understands, is that the world does not revolve around Jimmy McGill. She made a choice: she vouched for him, she trusted him to walk the straight-and-narrow path at Davis and Main, and he let her down. Whether Jimmy wants to admit it or not, it does reflect on her judgment, and that (along with Howard’s inflated ego) is why she gets screwed for his actions.
Some might argue that to take a woman as intelligent as Kim Wexler and have her suffer because of a man is doing a disservice to the character but I completely disagree. It’s a realistic picture of what people (especially women) sometimes do in toxic relationships. And Jimmy and Kim’s relationship is absolutely toxic (and will only get more so) because even though they love each other, Jimmy is incapable of changing his ways and Kim isn’t the type to force that change on him. She knows who Jimmy really is but she wants him to want to change, to make that choice himself, and she’s far too forgiving when he doesn’t. Watching their relationship unfold is painful, especially knowing what Jimmy’s future holds. You want to scream at your TV and tell her to get out as fast as she possibly can, but you also understand why she stays. A large part of this, of course, is the incredible talent of Rhea Seehorn. Kim Wexler isn’t one to talk about her feelings, and yet Seehorn is able to communicate everything Kim is feeling without speaking a word of it.
Just as she predicted, Kim is punished for Jimmy’s actions. Howard banishes her to the Cornfield doing mindless hours of doc review on the Sandpiper case, which is an absolute waste of her legal talents. Jimmy being Jimmy, he wants her to sue HHM but Kim tells him that he needs to leave it alone, and that she is going to deal with the repercussions of the situation on her own. “You don’t save me,” she tells him, “I save me.” It’s one of my favorite lines in all of Better Call Saul and it leads us to one of the defining moments of Kim Wexler’s character: the montage in “Rebecca” (S2E5) where she busts her ass trying to bring in a huge client for HHM in order to get herself out of the doghouse.
Kim Wexler is relentless when it comes to achieving her goals, and this montage shows us that she will absolutely not rest until she claws her way up out of the Cornfield and back to the office she deserves. Kim calls every possible human being she can think of in order to try and bring in business for HHM, and finally she succeeds. An acquaintance of hers, Paige Novick, is in-house counsel for a local bank, Mesa Verde, and they are in need of a firm to help with their coming expansion. Bingo. Kim is ecstatic, but it is short-lived, as Howard happily takes on Mesa Verde as a client but doesn’t bring Kim back upstairs to work on it, even though it is her connection and she brought them in single-handedly.
It’s absolutely disgusting, demoralizing, and just plain wrong of Howard to do that. At this point, he’s acting purely out of spite and Kim knows it, but she feels trapped at HHM. It’s not the first time in her life she’s felt trapped, either. Kim Wexler is from a nowhere town on the Kansas-Nebraska border, which is specific to Kim’s experience, but so many people can relate to that feeling of being trapped by your circumstances—coming from somewhere where there are very few options for upward mobility, wanting to get out but having no means to do so. She dreamed of a better life. She dreamed of something more.
So she moved to Albuquerque and worked in the HHM mailroom, quickly proving herself to be an impressive legal mind. HHM put her through law school at UNM and took her on as an associate after she graduated. While Kim has always been grateful to HHM for helping her get her start, it did come at a cost to her freedom. She felt indebted—and technically she was indebted, financially speaking—to HHM. Part of her employment agreement included reimbursement to the firm for her tuition. While a standard agreement given her situation, and one she was perfectly happy with for a long time, it left Kim in a bit of a bind when things started to go south for her at the firm she had always been fiercely loyal to. So when Howard leaves her rotting away in the Cornfield, Kim sees that her loyalty is unfounded and finally considers a change.
This change is spurred on, in part, by her relationship with Jimmy and the introduction of the “Giselle St. Claire” side to Kim Wexler. One of the most interesting things the writers did with Kim’s character in Season 2 was to introduce us to a new and unexpected side of her.
In “Switch” (S2E1), Jimmy and Kim finally take their relationship to the next level. After his trip to Cicero and the untimely death of his best friend, Marco, Jimmy is having a bit of a mid-life crisis. He’s spending his days at a hotel, racking up tabs under other people’s names, and Kim pays him a visit to have a Come To Jesus talk with him. She can’t understand why he’s self-destructing—why he just up and quit the law and seems content to float aimlessly in a hotel pool all day. At this point, she’s very concerned for him but she’s also pissed that he is giving up everything he worked so hard for. He’s letting Chuck win.
Of course, it’s not that simple, as she will soon come to realize. Jimmy is acting out as a result of Chuck’s betrayal and Marco’s death, sure, but he’s also being true to himself. Slippin’ Jimmy is back, and it’s a version of Jimmy that Kim does not know yet. So what else can he do but introduce her to him?
After spotting Breaking Bad douchebag extraordinaire KENWINS at the bar, Jimmy tells Kim to follow his lead. The result is an absolute game-changer for the character of Kim Wexler. Not only does she follow along with Jimmy’s scam, she gets very into it. Acting as brother and sister Viktor and Giselle St. Claire, the two of them scam KENWINS out of an exorbitantly priced bottle of Zafiro Añejo tequila.
The whole thing is really just an extended form of foreplay, and the two seal the deal right after. What is much more interesting than the fact that Jimmy and Kim finally got together (which was pretty inevitable) is that we learn that Kim has a bit of bad girl in her. She was not only perfectly comfortable doing the wrong thing with Jimmy, she liked it. Not only that, she was good at it. It came naturally to her. This woman, who had up until then been presented as the picture of morality and legal ethics, is an absolute master scammer. It’s genius, really, and it makes Kim Wexler so much more interesting. I’m not saying she wasn’t three-dimensional before, but the events of “Switch” really take her character to the next level.
Being Giselle must have felt so freeing to Kim, who was feeling underappreciated and under such incredible pressure at work. After she is offered a job at rival firm Schweikart and Cokely, Kim decides to let Giselle come out to play again. After a man makes a pass at her at a bar, she calls Jimmy to come in and play the Viktor to her Giselle. Kim is the one who initiates this time; she calls the play. And again, it’s foreplay for the two of them, leading to another night spent together. I love this Giselle side of Kim Wexler, not just because it’s fun to watch but also because it demonstrates that Kim is just as capable of making poor decisions as Jimmy, albeit in different ways. It’s far more interesting to watch a character make bad decisions than it is for them to be perfect all the time, which is what one might expect from a character like Kim Wexler. The Better Call Saul writers take that assumption and turn it on its head with Kim.
Another thing about Kim Wexler that is often overlooked, but that I think is such an amazing and important choice on the part of the writers, is that she is not in any way defined by motherhood. It is hard to name another female character without children who isn’t either lamenting the ticking of her biological clock or lack of fertility, or on the other end of the spectrum talking about how happy she is to be childless and free. With Kim Wexler, motherhood is a non-issue. However she feels about it, it isn’t discussed; she is who she is and is not in any way defined by maternal instincts or lack thereof. It’s so incredibly refreshing to see a woman on television who doesn’t have children but isn’t written as either desperate to have them or insufferably smug about not having them. They just simply do not matter to her.
Chuck is right in believing that Kim’s fatal flaw is her faith in Jimmy. She doesn’t do herself any favors when it comes to him (and what she is willing to do for him). This is one of the things that makes Kim Wexler such a standout character for me—that willingness to self-sabotage out of love for someone. Because it is self-sabotage; Kim has agency and she makes her own choices, it’s just that when it comes to Jimmy, she’s always put in a bad situation and generally makes the wrong choices. She’s so incredibly smart but, as is so often the case in life, love makes people do stupid things.
And Kim’s poor decision making regarding Jimmy only gets worse the longer they are together (and as Jimmy’s behavior gets worse and worse). After Kim decides to go out on her own with Jimmy and loses Mesa Verde to HHM, Jimmy takes things way too far in order to get Kim her client back. He commits forgery designed to embarrass Chuck and lead Mesa Verde back to Kim, all unbeknownst to Kim of course. But Chuck figures it out (because of course he does) and now the future of Kim’s career is linked to Jimmy’s crimes.
At this point Kim has a choice: she can cut her ties with Jimmy and move forward on the right path, or she can stick by him and try and get them both out from under the mess he’s created. She chooses the latter, not only because she loves Jimmy but because her career likely would not recover from publicly accepting the truth of what Jimmy did. Jimmy is constantly putting Kim in bad situations but she always has agency. She decides how to respond. She makes her own choices, even if it’s often a choice between two evils.
But there is a side to Kim, that Giselle side, that loves and thrives at the hustle, and she leans on this in order to partner with Jimmy in taking Chuck down and getting Jimmy out of his mess. This takes an emotional toll on her, though. While Jimmy seems completely unaffected by it, Kim knows what they did was wrong—that all they really did in the end was go after a mentally ill man for their own personal gain. It doesn’t sit well with her, but she doesn’t express this to Jimmy; she lets it fester, wondering how he could possibly remain so unaffected by it, especially after Chuck’s death.
Kim’s story is also a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for. She committed herself to taking on Mesa Verde alone, but it quickly becomes apparent that it really is too much for one person. But Kim cannot accept help. She is a self-starter and she’s used to doing everything on her own. She’s also feeling the pressure of carrying both herself and Jimmy after he is suspended for a year. So she bites off way more then she can chew and ends up almost killing herself after falling asleep at the wheel from sheer exhaustion. To see Kim forced to accept help from Jimmy and at the mercy of others for simple things like cutting her food is interesting because she is so clearly uncomfortable with it. For a woman like Kim Wexler, who has been on her own and doing for herself for the majority of her life, this would be an impossible situation.
Season 4 finds Kim finally accepting the help she needs professionally, but on a personal level, her relationship with Jimmy is struggling because he’s getting closer and closer to Saul. Chuck’s death seems not to have affected him at all, at least not in ways he is willing to admit or communicate in any way. Still unable to practice law, Jimmy starts a thriving burner phone business (unbeknownst to Kim). Kim herself is confused as to what she wants. Even after all she went through to keep Mesa Verde as a client, and all the collateral damage it caused, she is dissatisfied with the work. She has a renewed interest in public defender work and ultimately finds a balance between the two that works for her: she starts a banking division at Schweikart and Cokely where she has a team of associates to help her with the Mesa Verde work, freeing up some of her time for public defender work.
What I find so interesting about this is that with her professional life seemingly sorted out perfectly, she still feels the urge to scam with Jimmy. Perhaps it is a way for her to feel close to Jimmy, who has become much more emotionally distant as he moves towards Saul. Or perhaps she just needs the thrill of the hustle; she just plain enjoys being Slippin’ Kimmy, she’s good at it, and sometimes it feels good to do a bad thing. Kim could easily have been written as a paragon, and she would still have been an interesting character, but this side of her is so incredibly fascinating and constantly surprises the viewer. Just when you think Kim Wexler is going to make the right decisions, she decides to do something morally gray.
But Kim’s definition of morally gray is nowhere close to Jimmy’s, and even though she stays with him throughout all his nonsense and helps him out of every jam he gets into, it is taking a toll on her. She may enjoy some of it, but she knows it’s wrong; with Jimmy, she can never quite tell where his line is. By the end of Season 4, we see Kim starting to realize that perhaps Jimmy doesn’t have a line. She’s well aware that he is gifted in the art of bullshit, but she believed that after months and months of repressing his true emotions about Chuck, the dam had finally broken during his reinstatement hearing. Of course, she had been helping him plot the whole charade to make himself seem more sympathetic, but she was doing so in the hope that he would finally be forced to acknowledge the pain he had been repressing. So when Jimmy goes off-script in his hearing and finally expresses emotion regarding Chuck, it brings Kim to tears. Finally, he had allowed himself to be vulnerable and speak his truth.
But of course, it was all an act designed to make the “suckers” in the hearing reinstate his law license, which is exactly what happens. But Kim Wexler was one of those suckers, and she is horrified as she sees Jimmy go off without a care in the world. For the first time, we really see Kim asking herself, “Who is this person and what is he capable of?” Unfortunately, she will soon find out, because Jimmy McGill is about to become Saul Goodman.
So what does this mean for the indomitable Kim Wexler, Esq.? Will she stay with Jimmy, either operating under the sunk costs fallacy or because, despite the absolute horror show he is becoming, she still loves him? Or will she finally start making good choices when it comes to Jimmy and the effect he has on her life? I think Season 5 will dive into these questions and I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens, because when it comes to Kim Wexler, the Better Call Saul writers always make the most interesting choices and Rhea Seehorn always delivers.